No car shows Hyundai's effort to transform itself, and elevate its brand, more than the Equus. This big sedan offers bargain-price luxury, with appointments and performance approaching those of the Lexus LS 460.
Although a button labeled Sport sits on the console, the 2011 Hyundai Equus should not be mistaken for a big sport-luxury sedan of the type made by Audi and BMW. The Equus, like the Lexus LS 460, leans heavily toward the luxury side of things.
Providing a good value in luxury, Hyundai doesn't break any boundaries with cabin tech in the Equus. But it checks off most of the right boxes, and delivers a refreshingly modern and clean interface. You won't have to sit up late at night reading a manual as thick as "War and Peace" to learn how to use the car.
Hyundai's fluidic sculpture design language shows prominently in cars such as the new Sonata, but the Equus escapes that treatment. It is a much more conservatively styled car, most likely designed to appeal to older, well-heeled buyers.
A chrome surround and widely spaced bars in the grille lend to a stately presence, and LED parking lights suggest modern luxury. The rear fenders stick out a little too much from the body, an element that makes the car recognizable but not in a flattering manner. From a practical standpoint, the large windows around the cabin are a welcome antidote to the gun-slit windows on other modern cars.
Hyundai also gives the Equus its very own badge, a winged pedestal that appears on the front of the car, the wheels, the shifter, and steering wheel. With a name like Equus, an image of a Pegasus might be more appropriate, but the flying pedestal has an air of mystery.
Rear seat luxury
In the Ultimate trim that we tested out, the Equus begs for a chauffeur. The power-adjustable rear seats are just too comfortable to leave for kids or mere family members. A console between the rear seats not only holds controls for the DVD entertainment system, but conceals a refrigerator.
The rear LCD folds up from behind the center console, an excellent position to avoid blocking the rearview mirror. If you do want to block the driver's view, there is a rear powered sunshade, although it automatically lowers when the Equus goes into reverse. For privacy and general comfort, there are also powered sunshades for the rear side windows.
Opting to actually drive the car, you will be treated to a big, comfy seat upholstered in thick leather, with cooling and heating functions. Mercedes-Benz-style, the seat controls, mounted on the door, are easily accessible. Solid wood trim covers some surfaces, and a headliner that feels like suede runs up the A pillars and over the sunroof cover.
A metal-rimmed control knob sits on the console, surrounded by buttons labeled Map, Navi, Phone, and for the various audio sources. This hardware and the associated onscreen menus are refreshingly simple. Buttons on the steering wheel spokes also provide some degree of control, and a voice command system handles the basics, such as making phone calls and entering destinations.
But this simplicity goes a little too far. The navigation system's maps, stored on a hard drive, are colorful and easy to read, but strictly 2D. The maps show traffic information, and the navigation system uses this data to dynamically adjust route guidance. The destination options are typical, with manual address entry and a database of points of interest. Any connected features won't come until Hyundai gets its new Blue Link telematics system into the Equus.
The Bluetooth phone system is state-of-the-art. It copies a paired phone's contact list to the car, letting you place calls by speaking a contact's name. But it doesn't offer advanced features for smartphones, such as text or e-mail reading.
In terms of cabin tech, where the Equus shines the brightest is the stereo system. Lexicon audio puts 17 speakers in the car, powered by 608 watts of amplification. Lexicon is a Harman International brand that was formerly used by Rolls-Royce.